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Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life. By Allen Shawn. New York: Viking, 2007. 288 pp. $24.95.
For me, it's the trains. As a resident of a pleasantly small suburb just north of New York City, I rely on the train to get to and from work every day. And every day, for the nearly twenty years I've commuted to a city job, I feel acute anxiety, and even fear, for some sixty seconds. Standing on the train platform with my fellow commuters--a scene right out of any John Cheever story--I await the train's approach. The instant I see it round the bend, heading toward my station, I stand rooted in place, terrified that someone will brush against me, sending me plummeting down onto the tracks. Or maybe I'll just slip, somehow--if it's winter a deadly patch of black ice will suddenly reveal itself as the enemy of my shoes, and in summer the intense heat will have melted their rubber soles, and some combination of gravity, lack of balance, and plain bad luck will conspire to pitch me headlong under the wheels of the train to a very public (and painful, certainly) death. No joke; every day this fantasy not only crosses my mind but engages it fully, and my fear doesn't lift until I am firmly seated in the train car.
This--and a few more such phobias I won't get into here--is nothing, chump change, compared to the torments suffered by Allen Shawn. Among his phobias, and this is not even close to being a comprehensive listing, are a fear of open water, parking lots, bridges, …